Friday, December 7, 2012



Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner

     Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, the long awaited biopic has been well worth the wait. Spielberg has crafted a film that avoids all the schmaltzy, over-sentimentality that usually shrouds his films and with this viewer, typically creates a depressing sigh of disappointment. The film focuses on Abraham Lincoln's attempts and political means of getting the 13th amendment passed, the abolishment of slavery. Lincoln is a strong return to form. A form that was relevant in his film Munich (2005), but really had not been seen since his true masterpiece Schindler's List (1993).  It is exciting and enjoyable to see an experienced filmmaker produce and direct a film about one of, if not the most studied and loved Presidents of all time. The film delivers and is well worth the time to see it and see it again.
     The film, partly based on the book "Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, puts all of its drive and focus on Lincoln's desire to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude with the passage of the 13th amendment, as well as the political maneuvering of balancing that with ending the Civil War. I think the genius of film revolves around two main and significant parts. One, Spielberg and screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner do not delve into Lincoln's whole life. They focus the majority of the film on this period after his reelection and before his second term inauguration. There are no flashbacks to his childhood that gives the audience some event that molded Lincoln's life and moral decision making. I loved that this film focused solely on his ambition and political stylings for the abolishment of slavery and his passion to end the Civil War. It kept me completely engrossed in Lincoln's political abilities and struggles, and is definitely a parallel and metaphor for the difficulties we are faced with today, and how politics can take away from what should and can be done. The second part is the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis.
     When he was cast as Abraham Lincoln, I felt this picture had a little more credibility to it then some of the recent Spielberg films. When I saw the first trailer for the film, I was mildly skeptical over the somewhat whiny, almost nasal-driven voice, but it is not at all deceptive or agitating once I watched the film. He, as always, has done his research and it pays off as usual. He is compelling, respectful and always in control of his performance. His control not only shows his gracefulness and intensity as an actor, but his complete command of playing Lincoln. Never once did I not believe he was our 16th President. Day-Lewis is, with some argument, but not much, our greatest living actor. All the way from Stephen Frears My Beautiful Launderette (1985) to his fantastic, incredible work in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007), he is an undeniably prolific force in film and with his performance in Lincoln, he has proven that few actors can compete with his class and sophistication.
     This is not at all to say the rest of the cast is not magnificent as well, and massive also. Sally Field, as Mary Todd, shows with great experience, a woman in the midst of mental strain and exhaustion. She has lost one son, has another one Tad, (Gulliver McGrath) growing up in a world of war and disillusionment, and her eldest Robert, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who she desperately does not want lose since he has desires to join the Union and fight after leaving college. Field and Day-Lewis show the heartaches of marriage and one that is tired and completely mentally and physically strained from the life they live. A family that is and has grown in the midst of constant politics, war and the exhausting pressure of being the presidential family. That, attributed to Tony Kushner's educated writing, of not just the politics of Lincoln, but of how the whole of being a President and having a family, and being scrutinized and presented to the public constantly, is presented with honesty and agonizing pain.

     Tony Kushner's script is moving, engaging and completely brilliant in how he makes the actual politics, and these discussions, engaging and entertaining. The conversations that go on between Lincoln and his cabinet, create a sense of despair and a strong urge, and need, to achieve a goal at all costs. The script focuses on the inner workings, presented in the film, of how Lincoln pressed all around him, including his cabinet, the Radical Republicans that thoroughly advocated abolishment and the Republicans who wanted the war to end, but cared little for slavery to end. It shows the complications and perpetuations it took to get the amendment passed. The playwright in Kushner was able to create a balance between Lincoln's mingling and pushing of his agenda, and his ability to work with all sides to achieve his goal in dark rooms and conferences. Kushner's skills express and are expressed in his ability to create humor, with Lincoln always telling of stories to express a point or connect, or disconnect with people, and the intense negotiations of how politics can be vitriolic and successful in an attempt for accomplishment.
     In speaking of his collaborators and opposition, they are perfectly cast in this film. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a vehement proponent of abolishing slavery, is played with such humor, exhaustion and sarcasm that its hard to think of anyone being in the role except for Jones. He is man that has spent his whole political career to abolish slavery and does not hide his emotions. Lincoln's loud and boastful antagonist in the Senate, the Democrat Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), accuses him of being a dictator and a tyrant. Pace plays the role in a loud, heated way and recalls of the hatred of our current Republican parties disdain and hate for President Obama. Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn), is in constant communication with the President and at odds with him when he secretly sends for a delegation to ensure the end of the war, when that might ruin the chance of getting the 13th amendment passed. Strathairn is great as always, and plays the part with grand confidence and grace. Another great part of Lincoln is that tension created by Lincoln in wanting to assure the end of the war but at same time wanting to get the amendment passed before there is a declaration of the end of the war. The film is brilliant at creating drama and tension in making these events come to life and show the genius and gamesmanship of politics, as well as how effulgent Lincoln was at the game itself.
   The production value is, as always with a Spielberg period piece, at the highest of levels. The costumes and design from Costume Designer Joanna Johnston and Production Designer Rick Carter is fabulous and moody. And yes, there is so much facial hair in this movie. It's insane. Another thing that was a pleasant surprise was the music and score from longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams. In unusual Spielberg fashion, and maybe he can't help himself being the sentimental fillmmaker he usual is, the music doesn't force you into a feeling or sentiment. It plays as trusted, casual background that enhances the scenes instead of forcing an emotion, for the most part. The cinematography, from another of Spielberg's collaborators, Janusz Kaminski, is moody and fits the the dark political undertones and unease over the Civil War and slavery, but also is a little too whitewashed that takes away from the mood. More natural sunlight would have sufficed.
     I can't finish this commentary on Spielberg's Lincoln without writing about the best performances in film, with the exception of Daniel Day-Lewis. Tim Blake Nelson as Richard Schell, John Hawkes as Robert Latham and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo. These three great actors play lobbyists that go out into the field to persuade democratic opposition to vote for the amendment to abolish slavery. The Republicans needed votes from the democratic side to get the amendment passed and these three actors bring such great comedic relief to this drama. Spader is flat-out extraordinary in his heavy, bloated performance and was a revelation in the film. His enthusiasm is exemplified in the character he plays and is perfected by this underrated actor. Great to see him in a role like this.

     Lincoln is a film everyone should see. It's focus is honest and its depiction is relevant to the dismal political climate we live in today. It's relevant in the way it presents and examines Lincoln's political value and his abilities at playing the political game. Even though we know which way and how the story will end, Spielberg has crafted a film that is engaging and entertaining. I was so surprised that a film that appeared to be solely about political maneuvering and dictation could be so profound and enjoyable to watch. Lincoln is a film that shows that Spielberg still has it and that Daniel Day-Lewis continues to impress, and adds a wonderful film to his already impressive filmography.


  1. Great review Joshua. Didn’t love the movie, but definitely had a good time with it and loved every second of Daniel Day’s performance. He will definitely get a nomination this year.

    1. In a way, with the impact of the impressive cast, especially Lewis and Jones, it makes the film worth wild. But, it was nice to see Spielberg scale back the over-sentimentality angle/factor and use a wonderful script from Kushner and let a story convey an emotion instead of music or over acting. Love James Spader in this film too.

    2. Appreciate the comment and the time!!!